When composing a ROCK YOUR WORLD grain bowl, here’s a piece of advice. Think not like a chef, but like a hostess.
Yes, you heard right.
Some of the most famous hostesses of all time — Jackie O., Dorothy Draper, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt and more recently, Ina Garten, to name but a few — have showed us that the most memorable parties weren’t necessarily the ones with the fanciest food, most stunning backdrop, or even the most noteworthy guests.
So what makes a hostess great?
From what I’ve read and gleaned from watching great ones around me, it’s more than good graces and charm. The most extraordinary of hostesses possess an almost uncanny understanding of personal alchemy and are able to unerringly predict how the strengths of x will complement but not compete with those of y.
They not only warmly embrace each person equally, they do what they can to make everyone feel comfortable and provide them with a setting in which they will predictably shine.
Same thing goes for a good bowl meal. Consider and treat your guest ingredients well and your planning will pay dividends.
And perhaps the most beautiful thing about a one-bowl wonder is you can make them on the fly; many a time I can make a bowl out of what’s currently in my fridge. No special trips to the market required – who doesn’t love that?
Here is just a partial list of things that can work in a bowl:
Protein: grilled steak, chicken, shredded pork, prawns, grilled or fresh tofu, roasted salmon, beans of all kinds with a slight preference for chick peas
Grain: white, brown or black rice, couscous, wheat berries, farro, bulgur, quinoa
Vegetables: roasted eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, squash, corn, avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, fennel, broccoli or broccolini, peas, snap peas, haricot verts, arugula, roasted fingerling potatoes
Wild Card Surprise: goat cheese, pepitas, pesto (cilantro or basil), walnuts, romesco sauce, poached egg, Dungeness crab meat, Fritos, feta, halloumi, pecans, chopped dried apricots, bacon, pistachios, pitted Kalamata olives, green onion, sauteed shallots or caramelized onions, currants, queso, Marcona almonds, Mama’s Lil Peppas
Sauce, Dressing or Condiment: tahini with lemon and garlic, herb vinaigrette, coconut milk and curry, citrus and ginger, yogurt and cucumber, buttermilk and blue cheese, sesame oil and soy sauce, green chili and tomatillo
And to help you in your journey,
My 5 Tips to Make an Outstanding Bowl:
Go for a balance of personalities. Just like a table of guests will be overwhelmed by too much ego in one place, let big flavors and quieter ones co-mingle, but give the quieter ones the tools to be able to jump in the fray from time to time. Just because you have an outrageously scrumptious flank steak doesn’t mean your cucumbers shouldn’t be given some flavor love, too. Bring them up to speed so they can hold their own in the bowl conversation.
Pay attention to texture. Are you going more for a soothing softness or a rambunctious workout? Sometimes I want a soft rice bowl with just a tiny bit of crunch, while other times I want a wheat berry bowl with lots of crunchy vegetables with perhaps just a handful of cooked-until-silky white beans for an occasional soft landing. Either direction, go 80% one way, 20% the other.
Sometimes it’s good to be hot and cold. On one recent occasion I composed a couscous bowl and I thought, “Score! I’ve just crushed it.” But I hadn’t. It wasn’t until the second bite that I realized why it had missed the mark; everything in it (shrimp, couscous, shaved asparagus, lemon vinaigrette) was vaguely room temperature. Yawn.
I warmed up the shrimp with some pine nuts and tossed this all in, and added a few crisp cool arugula leaves straight from my fridge. Surprisingly just the slightest temperature variation made the world of difference. Remember that– it’s amazing how even a small dollop of chilled yogurt can enhance a hot and spicy curry bowl.
Invite a surprise guest. Consider one unusual ingredient you may not have added before; think of it as a hostess might offer an unexpected round of aperitifs just before supper or arrange for an appearance by a stranger that no one could have predicted. This will keep you intrigued and even if you’ve had bowls a million times, this time it will be just a wee bit different.
Like a good hostess, it’s up to you to make sure that everyone co-mingles. Most bowls will benefit from a last minute drizzle or toss with a little sauce to pull it all together. Just try to picture what one thing will inspire intimacy in your bowl guests– a squeeze of lime? A curry vinaigrette? A bit of Sriracha whisked into coconut milk?
To get you in the groove, let me share with you my playlist from last night’s dinner. I am happy to say it was like Party Central and a good time was eaten by all.
- For Chicken:
- 1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 Tbs. sesame oil
- 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into thin coins (no need to peel)
- 2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
- 1 Tbs. soy sauce
- For Bowl:
- 1 lb. asparagus, bottom inch trimmed
- 1 Tbs. sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 1 1-2 C. fresh pineapple, cut into small cubes
- 4 cups cooked brown rice, warmed through
- 1 C. roasted cashews (pieces are fine)
- 8 roughly chopped basil leaves (optional)
- For Dressing:
- 2 tsp. Sesame oil
- 3 Tbs. orange juice
- 1 pinch ground ginger or 1 tsp. minced garlic
- splash soy sauce
- splash lime juice or rice wine vinegar
- Marinate chicken. Place all first set of ingredients in shallow bowl and marinate from 30 minutes - overnight.
- Grill or pan fry chicken until crispy and completely cooked through (juices will run clear). Reserve any juices. Set aside.
- Drizzle sesame oil and minced garlic over asparagus. Grill or pan fry until just tender. Salt and pepper and chop into bite-sized pieces.
- Toss pineapple chunks with s/p and Sriracha to your tasting (I used 1 tsp. and it was perfect for me).
- Whisk together dressing, adding any leftover cooked chicken juices to it. Set aside.
- Compose bowl. Add rice, and then chopped chicken, asparagus, pineapple, cashews, and basil (if using). You can either drizzle sauce over each component (like I did above) or toss whole lovely mess together. Either way, prepare to gorge.